Our Semifinal Year

Semifinalist award badge from SoCreate.

Got the word this week that a script of ours made the semifinals in SoCreate’s first competition, “Get Writing.” This is our second semifinals so far this year (a novel in the Screencraft “Cinematic Books” competition and now this script contest).

Some people ask if it’s “worth it” to enter writing contests. Some yes, some no. If it’s from a reputable organization and the entry fee isn’t too high, and you can afford it, probably “yes.” Here’s why:

  1. If your ms is polished and ready, you get it in front of people you want to see it (look to see who the judges are).
  2. If you think it’s polished, but you’re not sure and you want feedback, some contests offer feedback, and it can really be helpful (again, look into the contest, who’s running it, who sponsors it, who the judges are, etc.)
  3. If you do place in the competition, you get to put that on your query letters, and like anything else in the arts, people do like to see confirmation that you’re good. Just human nature — they’re getting so many queries, so trying to weed through them must be like trying to shovel a mountain with a teaspoon. Any hint that this rock might be better than that rock must be helpful.
  4. Some offer prizes. Not just money. Revise & Resub offers help from a professional editor. PNWA offers feedback, similar to the report a script reader issues for a studio when reading a script. PitWars offers mentoring. See if the prize is something you would like to win.
  5. If you get anywhere in the competition, it’s validation. Sure, sure, you should be confident in your work and all, but who couldn’t use a bit of encouragement? I’ve had that award notification arrive on the exact day I thought I was hopeless and should give up writing to herd goats.

Do your due diligence. Look into who is running the contest, how long it’s been around, who sponsors it, who the judges are. Check Writer Beware and other sites for potential problems. Then, if the signs are favorable, get your act together and submit! Here are a few I’ve entered:

  1. Pacific Northwest Writers Association (https://www.pnwa.org/default.aspx). Annual competitions for unpublished and published works. Offers feedback. I can say that I have gotten feedback twice, once very useful (thoughtful, comprehensive, easily applicable to the work) and once not much (too vague). The useful feedback was useful enough so that I entered again.
  2. Revise & Resubmit (https://www.reviseresub.com/ ). Offers 5 weeks of help from a professional editor. Entered for the first time this year. I’ll let you know what happens.
  3. #PitMad and #PitWars (https://pitchwars.org/ ). Offers mentoring. I may enter Pitch Wars this year. If I do, I’ll let you know what happens.
  4. Screencraft Cinematic Books competition (https://screencraft.org/screenwriting-contests/ ). Offers a cash prize, mentoring, and introduction to film industry people.

There are others, such as the Writer’s Digest competition, that have been around for years, offer prizes, and publish your short story.

It can be a good experience as you ready yourself to send out queries. If nothing else, it gets you used to sending your work out to people who will judge it, which is what is going to happen at every stage of publication from agent hunting to getting reviews. Are you ready to become a “contested” writer?

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Shoebox Writing

“You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” – Isaac Asimov

To me, there are two main sorts of writers. Shoebox Writers write, but never show it to anyone. Authors write, send it out, get it back (more often than not), polish, send it out again. They just keep sending it out.

No shame in being a Shoebox Writer. It doesn’t make you less of a writer if nobody sees it but you. If you enjoy it, it’s a respectable way to spend your free time and less messy than a lot of things people do for recreation.

But if you want to be published, you’re going to have to get it out there. Some people will not get it. Some will not like it. A few will hate it. But the equations also work the other way. Some will get it. Some will like it. A few will love it. If you have any talent, you find your tribe.

One rejection, even a hundred, isn’t a statistically representative sample, so don’t get a few rejections and quit. Not if this is important to you.

If you do get a lot of rejections, look to see if any of them contain some useful feedback. “I didn’t like it” is not useful. Some will attempt to salve their own feeling of inadequacy by trashing you and what you do (ignore them — they’re jerks). But some people will, in the spirit of helping you attempt to climb your mountain, offer you considered, thoughtful feedback. And others will get it, and like it. If they get a chance to see it.

Think of it as diamonds lost in a dumpster. It’s your job to put on your gloves and find them. Get your stuff out there so that people who will like it get the chance. Thank the people who offer constructive criticism, and those who offer encouragement and support. There’s no getting just one side of that coin. No way to find your tribe without getting negative feedback.

If you can’t, if you just can’t bear negative feedback and it’s just to painful to hear that someone doesn’t love your baby as much as you do, be a happy Shoebox Writer. Write as your hobby, because you love it.

As Mark reminds me, “There’s nothing that 100% of people love.” There are popular books I didn’t enjoy, not for any reason that has to do with quality. They just didn’t reach me. They aren’t talking to me, and that’s okay — not everything has to be for me.

But some things are for me. And there are people who get my writing and like it. A few who love it. I’m searching for more. Hoping one is an agent. But meantime, my gloves are on and I’m searching.

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Welcome to IdeaJones.com

Articles, radio stories, ads, columns, corporate communications, novels or scripts – we’re never short of ideas. You can see some of our designs in our Redbubble shop, and read Joey’s political humor blog, Dear Donny: Presidential Pen Pals, right here at IdeaJones.

Joey Jones has published and edited many newspaper and magazine articles, radio stories, advertisements and commentaries, and has ghostwritten everything from speeches to love letters. She is a past Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting semifinalist and Fade In: Screenwriting Awards quarterfinalist. She also gathers sound and conducts interviews as a freelance field producer in the Sacramento area, and her on-air performance as “The Dying Fish” can be heard in the Water Education commercial series.

Mark Jones makes a living producing radio shows (like Connections on Capital Public Radio’s Music Station). As Martin Jenkins, he’s heard weekday evenings on CapRadio’s four news stations, and Sunday mornings on 91.3FM KUOP Stockton/Modesto. Mark has also sung, acted and directed local theater and TV.

We’re about the story. Whether it’s the facts and figures of nonfiction, or the deeper truth of fiction, we want to find just the right words, sounds, and/or images to get it across.

We’re also about the process. “Do the work right, and on time.” Life’s too short to make things harder than they have to be.

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Love Letter 101

How do I love thee? Um, y’know…

It’s that time of year again!

Anyone can write a good love letter.

If you want to make points with a good love letter, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. it’s not about you. It’s about the person you’re sending it to. Here’s your chance to show you are (or still are) paying attention. Everyone wants to be noticed, seen, and loved for themselves.
  2. Make it relationship-appropriate. Don’t get into body comments or sexual stuff unless you are in a relationship and already know s/he wants to hear what you think of his/her butt/chest/etc. Leave out what you want to do with said body parts unless you know for sure s/he wants to hear it. For sure. Don’t guess here.
  3. Short, simple, and sincere. A short letter that shows you really have been noticing, listening, seeing beats a long, flowery, generic letter that doesn’t sound like you.
  4. Still stumped? Pick something you love about that person, for example, the way s/he smiles. They way s/he treats people. How does that make you feel?
  5. “Dear (name): when you smile at me, my heart feels like a balloon about to rise into the sky. You are so kind to people around you and make them feel important. Just by being you, you add something wonderful to the world.” Say something you honestly feel, specific about that person, that you admire.

Remember — love letters aren’t just for romantic love. Your mother, grandfather, friend, etc. also want to feel appreciated. That teacher who went out of his or her way to help you would probably love a note saying thanks for teaching you the mysteries of algebra or the difference between “it’s” and “its.”

When you express love, you get to feel it yourself. It’s good for you and for the person who receives your note. Don’t be afraid to tell people you care about what it is about them you appreciate. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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A Cinematic Book

We made the quarterfinals of the ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition! (Update… we made the semifinals!)

Just got the word that we made the semifinals of ScreenCraft’s competition for “cinematic” books, which means script readers could see this as a movie.

There are a lot of great books that wouldn’t make good movies. To be made into a movie, a book needs a visual language. Long ago, we took a series of classes from Dale Wasserman, who wrote the play “Man of La Mancha.” He wrote the “book” of the play (as opposed to the music and lyrics — although he maintained some of the lyrics were lifted from his text). He also wrote for film and tv as well as theater.

He said that books are the most literate art form, then plays, then film, then tv. It wasn’t an insult — it’s just that film and tv are more dependent on visuals than language. Language matters in film and tv, but first, you have to have pictures.

Mark and I have placed in screenwriting contests, and Mark writes in pictures. He’s good about prodding me to look at what I’m writing and think about what it looks like. “It’s a movie in the reader’s head,” he told me one time. “When I read, I see it and hear it.” Plus, he trained me in producing for radio, where creating mental pictures is what it’s all about. It’s something I still work on… as you can tell, I tend to be verbal.

Lots of writing is you alone with your thoughts and your computer (or notebook, or…). I talk to myself when I’m writing, wondering if anyone but me will understand what I’m trying to convey. There’s no way to tell until someone reads it. First we had beta readers, then did live readings, then got feedback from a reviewer, and at every stage, examined what was working and what wasn’t. Every time a reader says they enjoyed it, and tells me what connected with them, I want to cheer. Now we’re querying it. It’s a terrifying process.

I overwrite, then have to cut like the villain in a slasher film. There’s always a struggle to cut what is “extra” without taking all the juice out of it.

To know that the ScreenCraft readers, who have never met me and don’t know what I sound like, “hear” and “see” this novel is a joy. Congratulations to my fellow semifinalists, and to everyone who completed a novel they were proud enough of to enter it in a competition — that’s a big achievement right there.

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